Gamers everywhere have been counting down the days until they can finally sink their teeth into Bungie’s last Halo game, Halo: Reach, but can it live up to the crazy amount of hype it’s gathered since it was first announced? No, of course not. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not a great game and a must-own for every Xbox 360 gamer.
In Reach, you fall into the role of Noble 6, a character who you may customize right from the beginning. You decide Noble 6’s gender, armor colors and symbol, and after you’ve decked out the Spartan in the latest duds, you take control of the character. Let me rephrase that, YOU are Noble 6. Bungie has made the main character of Halo: Reach, you, the player, and damn it feels good. Luckily, Bungie has learned from their previous mistakes in ODST, so you’ll be happy to know that Noble 6 isn’t a mute like ‘The Rookie’.
The actual story of Halo: Reach is told in a much darker fashion than Halo 3 and you feel much more intimate with all of the Spartans on Noble Team then you have in any of the previous Halo titles. I don’t want to spoil too much about the game’s story so I’ll just summarize a few early parts. Noble 6 shows up to fill in for an old member of Noble Team who was offed. Apparently, Noble 6 has quite the record and has been known to make entire militia groups disappear. Noble 6 is not franchise poster boy Master Chief in a very clever disguise, so stop thinking that right now.
Noble Team goes to investigate a UNSC beacon and what they believe to be Rebel resistance, and *spoiler alert* they quickly learn that the Covenant have landed on Reach. There are a few points throughout the campaign that are a little weak from a storytelling perspective, but overall the campaign will suck you in to the point that you, arguably for the first time in a Halo game, may even start to legitimately care about the characters. Some familiar faces and voices will show up throughout the campaign and the Chief, who doesn’t make an epic appearance in the story, can be unlocked as a voice for Firefight.
The campaign is engaging and there are a couple of moments where you will feel like a total badass. Throughout different cutscenes you’ll assume either a first-person view, the view from the nearest security camera, or a view that feels like a camera man following the Noble Team. All of these different combinations provide a great gritty and realistic feeling that will draw the player even further into the experience. But as awesome as all of that is I sat down and tore though the campaign in one night. This is easily the biggest problem with Reach, and as much as I’d like to attribute the shortness of the campaign to my incredible skill, it’s a little disappointing that there wasn’t more of the campaign for me to experience.
Bungie made an ambitious effort to make the character moments and cinematics much more immersive. And while they are several steps forward in the right direction, they still have work to do to hit the level of smoothness or coolness as the Gears of War and Call of Duty games. This was further exemplified in some of the mission moments where you need to board a vehicle or get into the building as a door closes – more often than not, your AI-controlled Noble teammates will be left outside and abandoned which really takes you out of the story aspect of the moment.
The gameplay is similar to that of any other Halo game, but the AI has really been cranked up in Reach. Gone are the days that you just run head-first into a couple of Hunters. If you don’t take cover, then you will rightfully die very quickly. The Covenant forces are stronger and smarter then they have ever been before and this adds a needed sense of vitality to the series. The gameplay is challenging and will likely have you swearing at Noble 6 and the rest of your “stupid squad that’s not providing any cover fire.”
The graphics in Halo: Reach are the best the series has ever seen; it’s so much more gritty and realistic then previous installments. And as solid as the graphics are, they don’t quite hit the level of detail we’ve seen in other triple-A Xbox 360 titles. It’s the incredibly detailed and beautiful backdrops that really suck you in to every single level that you play through. This is something Bungie continues to excel at.
The backgrounds are rendered so well that sometimes you’ll just want to stop the Covenant killing and look at the mountains in the distance, but the overall gameplay graphics can’t stand up to that of of say Epic Games’ Gears of War 2 and there are a few graphical hick-ups along the way. Some cutscenes will appear mildly (and surprisingly) jumpy, but it’s nothing irritatingly noticeable. There are also a lot of white and black fade-outs which interrupt cinematics or animated scenes which hurt the flow of some of they key moments of Reach.
The campaign really is a sight to behold, but it’s the multiplayer and Forge modes that will surely draw heaps of attention from anxious Bungie fans. The multiplayer has a new credit system that adds a ton of unlockable armor and features, offering a much more customized and deeper experience. Every match you play online earns you credits that you can then use to purchase a variety of goodies from the new Armory. Anything from new helmets and armor add-ons, armor effects (i.e. a Pigpen-esque stink cloud), and guest voices for Firefight mode. It’s all there and it actually gives you something to aim for — other than achievements — while playing online.